Trinity 1 – Luke 16:19-31 – May 28th and 28th, 2016
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 +
Well, now we are full into the season of Trinity. Things are green, and they are going to stay Green for quite some time. Trinity is the teaching season, the season of growth, and last week we reviewed lesson 1 – God loves you. Simple as that. And this week, we will get lesson number two. Sin is ignoring the Word of God. All sin. That's where sin comes from. This is precisely what our Lord is teaching some Pharisees with our Gospel lesson today. “Wait, what do you mean teaching some Pharisees, I didn't hear anything about Pharisees in the Gospel text!” Luke 15 and 16 are all one big narrative all tied together – and Luke 15 has the parable of the Lost Sheep, the Lost Coin, the Prodigal Son. Ones you know well. Luke 16 starts with the dishonest manager – take your bill and cross out 100 and write 80 – you cannot serve God and money. We'll look at those in detail later in the summer, but upon hearing these lessons, in verse 14 we hear this: “The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all these things, and they ridiculed Him.” Think on that. The Pharisees hear Jesus speak these beautiful and cherished parables, and they laugh. They mock Him. They ridicule Him. And so, Jesus explains how it really is.
Alright, you lovers of money who mock the idea of relying simply upon the goodness of God. Here you go. “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.” This is a beautiful set up. You Pharisees love money – alright, I'll tell you a tale about a fellow with tons of money. The best clothes, the best food, gated community. Everything your selfish and greedy black hearts could want. And over and against this rich fellow is this poor, sickly, beggar whom I'll call Lazarus. Here is where Jesus is neat – the name “Lazarus” means “one whom God helps.” You Pharisees have been laughing and mocking all these parables about God helping, God showing mercy to folks, about God rejoicing in and delighting in forgiveness. Alright – here's two folks – the rich smug jerk like you guys, and then the poor fellow whom God helps, help that you've mocked while rich jerks won't lift a finger.
Seriously – the rich man is cold. Lets Lazarus starve to death on his doorstep. But at least when he dies Lazarus is “carried by the angels to Abraham's side.” In the Old Testament, the way of saying that a man died in the faith was that he went to sleep with his fathers – well, there you go, there's Lazarus and he's with not just any old father, but Father Abraham. And now, to the Pharisees, for their fellow. “The rich man also died and was buried, and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off.” Do you get just how big a smack in the face, what a shot across the bow this is to those Pharisees who were mocking Jesus? Laugh it up now, because if you don't repent, you'll be burning in hell with all the pagans, far, far away from Abraham. And you know what all that power that you love and crave will get you there? You know what your money and fame will be good for when you're burning? And [the rich man] 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.” But Father Abraham said, '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.” Oh, so NOW you want things to be about mercy – mercy you never showed to Lazarus, mercy you Pharisees don't show as you stand by and laugh and mock as the poor have good news preached to them. Well, tough. You see Pharisees, this life is the day of mercy, today is the day of salvation, and if you don't care about living in mercy now, about receiving mercy from God and showing mercy to others, well, when you are burning in hell it will be too late. Jesus is reading these Pharisees the riot act.
The rich man seems to come around a bit – send Lazarus back to my house, I've got five brothers and I don't want them to end up here. And Abraham says, “They have Moses and the Prophets, let them hear them.” They've got the Scriptures, they've got the Word of God. Moses and the Prophets (and indeed, the whole New Testament today) teaches that we are sinful and need to repent and cling to God for mercy that He gives in the Messiah, in the Christ. What Abraham says is spot on. Abraham says, “your brothers have it better than I did, because Scripture wasn't written yet in my day – they should be thrilled that they can hear the Word of God come to them over and over and over again. God has given them such a great gift in His Written Word!” And then we get to the crux of the problem. And [the rich man] said, “No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.” Pause there for a second. There the rich man is, burning in hell, and he has the chutzpah, the audacity to tell Abraham, father Abraham, “No”. Abraham, you don't know what you are talking about, I know what I'm talking about. Remember what the Pharisees were doing, mocking Jesus' preaching? Jesus, you don't know what you're talking about. There it is. Sin is ignoring the Word of God. Sin is thinking you know better than what God has promised in His Word.
Abraham knocks the rich man down – sets up the Pharisees too. “If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.” Your plan won't work – if they mock the Old Testament Scriptures, they'll mock the New Testament too, they'll mock the parables of Christ Jesus, who will in fact rise from the dead. All because in pride and ego, people ignore the Word of God. You think you're so pious, you Pharisees. You think you are so much better than others because of how you're such good Jews, (good Christians,) you see your wealth and power and prestige as proving how good you are. Do you use this to serve your neighbor as Moses instructed? Do you confess with the psalms that all flesh is grass, that the flower of the field withers? Do you put your trust in the Lord for mercy? Do you seek out and wait for the Messiah whom the prophets foretold? No, you don't. You ignore the Scriptures, you ignore the Word of God because you in your pride think you know better. You're in for a world of hurt.
Now, here's the moment of truth for me as a preacher. Because if I wanted to, this text sets up to just let me unload on you folks. I could preach up a whole heap of fire and brimstone here, guns ablazing. However, as the point of the text is that we ought not ignore the Word of God, I really ought not treat this text, this story as though there was only one character in it. It's not just the tale of the rich man – it's the rich man and Lazarus. And I know that Satan and your flesh are trying to turn you into full-fledged rich men, but when I see you, I see a bunch of Lazarus-es. And I have a good reason to see you as such. Lazarus has a name. Interesting point. In all the parables and stories Jesus tells, Lazarus is the only one ever named.
You too have a name. You have a Christian name. Your baptismal name. That's why part of the rite of Baptism includes “how are you named”? And there, at the font, you are brought into the family of God, washed clean and forgiven, and there you have God's own Name - Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – placed upon you. Lazarus means “one whom God has helped” - and there's not more help than God can give than Holy Baptism. Washes away sin, gives eternal life. Brings you into the Church, makes you a member of Christ's own body. So yes, looking at this story, what I see when I see you, what we ought to see and think of each other is that we are Larazus-es. That we are poor, miserable sinners who are “Lazarused” - who are helped by God.
Let's be honest about that poor and miserable sinners part for a moment. That is what the Scriptures say of us, and that is the reality of our lives. In the story, when we see Lazarus, he's laying there sick and battered and as good as dead. That's the reality of life in this fallen world. We are covered with sin and temptation, we are battered and ignored, we starve from a lack of love and crave it. Some of you feel this reality strong now. For some of you, the physical description hits too close to home. And if some of you are having good times; don't get too haughty, eventually it gets rough for everyone here, as the Scriptures teach, as you well know. So there we are. Kicked in the teeth. The people next to you, in front of or behind you, there they are too. Don't be afraid to admit just how rough it is for you, for you neighbor. That's reality, or at least part of it.
The other part, the greater part, is that you are helped by God. These trials and temptations and sufferings that you face, they don't thwart, they don't trump God's love for you. You are forgiven. Christ Jesus, your brother, has won you salvation, He has come down into this world and suffered along side you, seen everything at it's worst, died and risen for you, and so you too will rise. Nothing you face here can stop that. And as for each other – well, “Even the dogs came and licked his sores.” We comfort each other. We care for each other, even if the best we can do is lick each others wounds. While the world around us might show all the disdain of the Pharisees, the callousness of the rich man, so be it. We are poor beggars, but we are helped by God. We are miserable dogs, who give what comfort we can – but we are dogs who are fed on the crumbs from our Master's table, receiving His life giving Body and Blood for the remission of our sins and for strength to show love and mercy to one another.
Lesson two – Sin is ignoring the Word of God. That's the basis of all sin, where we get tempted to go off on our own way and do our own selfish thing and let everyone else rot. But the Word of God has come to you, and you have hears to hear. And this is what God's Word says of us – while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Though our sins are as scarlet, they shall be white as snow. Though you are battered and beaten and broken in this life, you are helped by God, and you shall know eternal rest in Christ Jesus. God grant that by the power of His Word and Spirit, we ever remember who we are in Him! In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +