Trinity 1 – June 22nd, 2014 – Luke
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
I know the preachers on TV tell us that our lives are supposed to be ones of wild riches and unending joy. I know the books tell you that if you just name the blessing, God will give it to you. I know the kids’ song says that I am supposed to be in right up right down right happy all the time. That’s the track that by in large American theology has taken – God gives you the blessing bootstraps and you just pull yourself up by them and everything is wonderful. And then, we hear this story – the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus. Jesus has been telling a slew of parables, ones we are familiar with – the Lost Sheep, the Lost Coin, the Prodigal Son, the dishonest manager… and then, the Pharisees, whom verse 14 (before our text) notes “were lovers of money” mocked Christ for those parables. Made fun of him – a little old lady with a mere ten coins. And no father would welcome the son who squandered his estate. You cannot serve God and Mammon – ha! God gives me all this stuff because I am such a good servant. I guess the Pharisees and the typical, modern American tend to think the same way – Good Little Christian ought to equal Good Big Bank Account. And we here get tempted – we get tempted to want that same stuff, tempted to think that maybe we aren’t up to snuff in God’s book whenever we see the hardships in our lives, even the same, stupid things we have to face down over and over again, and with that background health and wealth preaching, we can be even more run down.
Then our Lord speaks this parable. “There was a rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day.” There we go. The ideal Pharisee – clearly blessed by God. The ideal American Christian, clearly blessed by God – and he knows it. If I told any of you here that God was going to triple your income, I don’t think any of you would complain, or think about the dangers of greed or abuse of power that might come along with that – because we are Americans. And there it is – the American dream. In Jesus’ day it was purple clothes and an overflowing table – today, big house, fine cars. Same idea. Is that the ideal, isn’t that what the Christian life is supposed to look like?
“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.” And then, there’s Lazarus. He’s poor, a beggar, he has nothing. The best he hopes for are table scraps. And he’s weak. He doesn’t even walk himself to the rich man’s doorstep – he’s carried there. He’s covered with sores – and doesn’t even have the strength to shoo away the dogs who come and lick him – the dogs who are probably strong enough to go pull those table scraps out of the junk heap. There they are, the two characters. The Rich Man and Lazarus – and if you didn’t know the story, if you were hearing it for the first time every single one of us in this room would have in our gut wanted, assumed that we are supposed to be like the Rich Man.
“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.” The guy the Pharisees want to be like. He’s in hell. The poor, helpless man, he gets carried, but this time instead of being carried to the doorstep of the rich man, he is carried by the angels to heaven. Quite the contrast. And we see this contrast play out in the story. “And in Hades, being in torment, [the rich man] 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.’” Well, apparently a bit too late, the rich man remembers a bit of his Sunday School training. Shouldn’t be too proud, should be humble, shouldn’t be too demanding. I know… I’ll only ask for but a drop, a fingertip of water. That is all that I want or need. See how kind and humble I am – I’ll even use the right words – have mercy on me! I played the game in the world, I’ll just play the game in the afterlife.
Yet think about that. Even burning in hell, this rich man thinks to instruct Abraham, tell Abraham what to do, what mercy ought to look like. Even burning in Hell this guy thinks he can boss Lazarus around – hey, send Lazarus on a little day trip to hell – lazy bum sat around all his life, he doesn’t need to sit around in the afterlife – get that boy to work bringing me a bit of water! The outward veneer of piety melts away, and there is nothing but self-righteousness and condescension.
And so Abraham calls him on it. “Child, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner bad 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 there may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.” Yeah, rich guy – you received good things, and Lazarus received bad - from you. He was your neighbor, and you gave him nothing. You took the blessings that God your Father had given you and you wasted them, instead of loving your neighbor as God desires. There in hell, you’re getting what you deserve – and even if I thought otherwise, I couldn’t help you. You who took every blessing for granted, who thought you earned all that you have – you are beyond receiving blessing, beyond earning anything.
And then we get this fascinating conversation. “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.’ 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.’” And right there is the crux of the parable – right there we see how the story plays out. The problem wasn’t that the rich guy was rich – it might be harder for a camel to go through the eye of the needle, but the wealth itself wasn’t the problem. At first this seems like such a nice and kind plea from the rich man – looking out after his brothers. But Abraham gets to the heart of the matter. They already have Moses and the Prophets – they have the Word of God which has told them what they need to know. They should be aware of their own sin already, they should know their need for a Savior, they should be looking forward to the Messiah and eager to hear Him. But that’s not good enough for the rich man or his brothers, these scoffing Pharisees. Oh no, Father Abraham, Moses isn’t good enough. Now pause and think of this. You have a Jewish man, first contradicting Abraham, and then denigrating Moses and the Prophets. Telling Abraham no? Treating Moses and the Prophets as worthless? That would be like complaining about George Washington and Thomas Jefferson on the 4th of July. That would be like an OU fan insulting Bob Stoops, Barry Switzer, and Bud Wilkenson. That is a man without faith telling God that His Word is worthless. And that’s the problem. Disdain for God’s Word.
In this story, we hear the rich man talk, talk, talk. He is entitled, he expects to be the boss and have things his way – he gives commands, he contradicts Abraham. And sure, by outward appearances, his life seemed to be good, but it was empty, faithless. Spiritually bankrupt. For all that he did, for all that he thought he could make others do – he was nothing – he did not hear the Word. Now, contrast this with Lazarus – with the man of faith. We don’t see Lazarus doing anything. He’s too weak to do anything in life, and in the afterlife, all we hear of him is that he is carried to Abraham’s side, receiving comfort there. Lazarus is a hearer. He is simply one who hears the Word and trusts in it, even when life appears lousy and terrible.
Dear friends in Christ, oftentimes does your life seem terrible? Lousy? Things go poorly, not the way you planned, not the way you wanted them to be? Business goes dry, crops come out lousy? Or what of those things that you would never breathe a word of to others – the family skeletons in the closet, the secret and hidden temptations that you yourself struggle with, struggle against? While the world and the tv preachers might bluster their lies and false expectation – hear the Word of your Lord Jesus Christ. These things don’t surprise Him. He knows the affliction, the “bad things” people receive in this world. He knows the impact that sin and the fall has. This is why He came. Christ Jesus came not to give you the secret business strategies to give you your best life now or the 7 biblical principals to make sure your family is awesome. He came to redeem sinners, to find the sick and poor, to find poor miserable sinners and win for them forgiveness. He came to suffer and die and rise so that you who suffer sin and hardship and even eventually death, would rise with Him.
And this is for you. There is a bit of subtlety here in this text. Do you know how I can say conclusively that Christ has died for you – how in the face of all those doubtmongers in the world who say that if you aren’t overwhelmed with stuff and mammon that maybe you’ve ticked off God? Here’s how. You are baptized. Consider. In the parable, the rich man didn’t have a name. We don’t know his name. Lazarus has one. A name means you belong, that you are part of the family. Your name is given you, your Christian name, when you are baptized. “How is this child to be named” – as the rite goes. How shall this child of God, who belongs to Him, who has been redeemed by Christ be known? You are part of the family of God, you are known by God, redeemed by Christ, called and gathered by the Spirit into His family, into His Church – and it doesn’t matter a lick what the wealth lovers or the scoffers or those who ignore the Scriptures say. You belong to Christ, you are baptized. You are redeemed by Him, this is the reality, this is the truth.
So dear friends, do not let the world and its Christless and loveless and Scriptureless and Spiritless expectations dismay you. You needn’t pretend. I have hardships and temptations, you have them, we all have them. That is life in this sinful world. But for our sake, God Himself comes down, suffers and dies, so that we would be forgiven, that we would be His for all eternity. This is our hope. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit + AMen.