Trinity 1 – June 10th, 2012 – Luke 16:19-31
In the Name of Christ the Crucified +
All sin is nothing but telling God you know better than He does. All sin involves arrogance and disdain of God, all sin involves sinful man saying “No” to God. The example par excellence of this is the Rich Man in our Gospel lesson today. Our Lord gives us a story – it’s interesting, we don’t have any statement to the effect of “then he told them a parable” – no, Jesus just starts telling a story. Of course, a few verses earlier we hear, “The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all these things, and they ridiculed Him.” Then Jesus starts talking… and just as Nathan launched into a story to show David David’s wickedness, Christ does the same with these greedy Pharisees. Let us listen and learn.
“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.” Two men appear in contrast – the Rich man and Lazarus. We will focus on Lazarus later, but first, consider this Rich Man. He is well off. You didn’t wear purple in the ancient world if you weren’t well off. Today, in the Church we can think of purple as perhaps a humble, penitential color – the color of Lent. The LWML wasn’t engaging in braggadocio when they picked out Purple as their color – we associate purple with service and even suffering today. Wasn’t that way in Christ’s day. Purple was the most expensive of all the dyes – the only source of purple dye in Christ’s day was from a small, rare snail that lived off the coast of Turkey. That’s it. You had to be rich to wear purple, filthy stinking rich. This Rich Man had more than enough and how – and He was flaunting it.
And then, there’s a beggar who is laid at his door. Now, think for a moment like a good Israelite. There is no government agency or social program to hide behind. Behold, there’s a poor man on your doorstep. What are to you do? God has told you, God has said that you are to care for the poor and needy. Over and over in the Torah, God commands that provision be made for the poor. If you were in harvest, and grain fell onto the ground, you were not to pick it up – that was to go to the poor, who could come and glean it. ““And when you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field right up to its edge, nor shall you gather the gleanings after your harvest. You shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner: I am the LORD your God.” You couldn’t charge interest on a loan, because that is taking advantage of the poor. Or consider this one - “If your brother becomes poor and sells part of his property, then his nearest redeemer shall come and redeem what his brother has sold.” That’s the reason why we have “Redeemer” language in bible – it first referred to the relative who bought and restored land to the poor who had fallen on hard times – and this wasn’t optional. You are to love your neighbor, especially the poor.
The Rich Man knew the Law. He knew that He was to love to poor. And yet, what does He do? Nothing. God has given Him blessings, and instead of using those blessings as God had instructed, this Rich Man shows disdain. How great is his disdain – forget the edges of his field, he won’t even give his scraps, his trash to the poor beggar on his door step. This isn’t a case of the Rich Man not wanting to be suckered by a scheme, or having a lack… this is just choosing to ignore God and ignore the neighbor. The two things go hand in hand – ignoring God and ignoring the neighbor. God has created your neighbor and put your neighbor into your life for you to care for them, and when you do not, you sin not only against your neighbor, but against God.
“The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s side. The rich also died and was buried”. And they die. Both of them. The poor beggar dies, and so does the Rich Man. His wealth and earthly power, for all things it could bring him, couldn’t stop death. And what happens to the Rich Man who constantly ignored and disdained God? “…and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side. And he called out, ‘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 this flame.’” One of the things to note, to consider about the Scriptures, is that when the faithful see Christ and they call out for mercy – they don’t just tell Him what do to. They don’t instruct Christ – they ask for mercy, and if He asks them what they want, well, then they tell Him, but they don’t instruct God on what He is and isn’t to do. Not so the rich man – here he is, burning in the fires of hell, and he still things he is in charge, thinks he can tell Abraham what to do, thinks he can order Lazarus to descend down into hell to give him a touch of water. What arrogance! Again, the sinful flesh is chalk full of arrogance and pride, the sinful flesh loves to instruct God. When you feel that urge, that desire to tell God “God, this is what you should be doing” – that is simply your own sinful flesh rearing up. Beat it down.
Abraham’s reply to the rich man is interesting. “But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things; but now he is comforted here and you are in anguish. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none my cross from there to us.” Isn’t going to happen. You are receiving your just desserts, your punishment for your sin, for your unbelief of God. There is nothing to be done now. But the Rich Man doesn’t stop giving orders. “And he said, ‘Then I beg you, Father, to send him 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.’” Again, while it seems nice, the Rich Man commands. He is arrogant. He continues, even burning in hell, to think he knows best. “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.’” No, Father Abraham. No, I think you are wrong. The Word of God isn’t enough, there needs to be something more. Do you hear the arrogance? Do you hear the disdain of God’s Word? I mean, this is just blowing through the first table of the Law – this is shattering the first, second, and third commandments. Talk about disdaining, misusing the Name and power of God. Talk about absolutely not holding God’s Word sacred. And Abraham gives to the rich man the sad rejoinder – “If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.” No – if you disdain God’s Word, if you say, “No, I know better than you God” – if you persist in your unbelief, there is nothing that will top that, not even a man rising from the dead.
Consider the warning in this, because your sinful flesh, the world, and your old foe Satan, will try to slowly but surely twist you into behaving and becoming like the rich man. The Rich Man knew all this stuff, he knew his bible… but he began to ignore it, to not care. He twisted and fell away. He began to care more about the things of this world and used God’s blessings against him. He began to think more and more about what he was doing and to ignore God and how God had blessed him – see how used to being in charge, how used to being in command he was? Love and serve the neighbor, hardly! I’ll command Abraham from the pits of hell. This is the twisting that had happened. And of course, the utter disdain of God’s Word. Eh – I don’t need it anymore, it’s pointless – I’ve read it, I’ve heard it, that’s all old hat – it doesn’t do anything for me any more, it’s not entertaining enough, it doesn’t suit my sophisticated palate. This is the ploy of Satan and your flesh – to twist you to where your life is all about you, all about what you do, all about what you deign is best. Sin tries to make your activity, your self-determined course of actions the center of your life.
Now, consider the other main character in the story. Lazarus. Lazarus is the model of the Christian, is your example. And what does Lazarus do? What are his actions? He doesn’t have any – he is passive. Listen. “was laid a poor man, covered with sore, desired to be fed with what fell, he died and was carried to Abraham’s side.” They are all passive, they are all receptive. Dear friends, your life as Christians are not determined, not shaped by what you do. It is just the vain egoism of this age, the false and shallow spirituality of spoiled, rich Americans that talks about our actions and works incessantly. No – you are a Christian because of this – you are poor, a poor miserable sinner. You know that you are covered with sin, with festering boils of wickedness that disgust even you. And you do not try to hide this fact – no, you rejoice because you have a Redeemer in Christ Jesus. You have a God who comes and cares for you, who caries you to His bosom – a God who is active for you. When you see your poverty, when you see that you are poor in Spirit and doomed to die, you know as well that He buys back your life by taking up your death upon the Cross and rising from the dead to give you back your life. When you see your sores and wounds, you have a Redeemer who Himself takes up those wounds upon Himself and instead washes you clean in the waters of Holy Baptism. When you feel the ache and bite of sin, when you feel your lack, when you hunger for righteousness, you have a Redeemer who gives you good things from His Table – not just the scraps, but His own Holy Body and Blood so that you might have life in His name. Indeed, even should you die, you shall be carried to His side, lifted to heaven not by the merits of your own works, but by the power of the Word of God, by the power of the Holy Spirit who has focused your eyes upon Christ, who by Moses and the Prophets and the Gospels and Epistles made you to believe that Christ has indeed risen from the dead for you.
My dear Christian friends, be on guard against your sinful flesh, your flesh which would try to tell you that you know better than God. That you know better how to live, that you know better how to save yourself. Do not rely upon your own works, do not value them. Do not even delight in the times you love your neighbor, for what great feat is it to do what you are simply given to do? Rather this – be receptive. Hear the Word of God, by which you are brought all of what Christ has done for you, all His righteousness and love and mercy – receive these gifts. That is what makes you a Christian, that is what gives you life, life in Christ, that is what puts your sinful flesh to death and mortifies it so that a new man in Christ might emerge. We are poor beggars who are redeemed by God, this is good. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +