Saturday, June 17, 2017

Trinity 1 Sermon

Trinity 1 – Luke 16:19-31 – June 17th and 18th, 2017

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
What is your posture? When you are in the presence of God Almighty – what is your posture? What is your approach? How do you stand? Do you stride boldly before God and say, “see all that I have done for you!” or do you stand humbly before God and say, “see all that I need, for I need it from you?” Our Gospel text for this day is the Tale of Lazarus and the Rich Man – and a contrast is shown and developed between the haughty Rich Man and the poor beggar Lazarus – but I will contend today that this text isn't talking about your life or success in the world, but rather how you stand before God. Let's dive in.

“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.” So there's the contrast – you've got one guy with money and wealth and power, and you've got the other guy with nothing. In Jesus' day, purple dye was insanely expensive – only the filthy rich could afford it. And your clothes weren't generally fine – they'd wear out too quickly. And food tended to be simple – daily bread was the expectation, not daily feasting. The Rich Man is the American Dream – big house, great clothes, fantastic food. And then, there's the beggar. And he's a miserable beggar – he's not even a panhandler with a good story, he's just a beggar. Weak and miserable. Too weak to chase off the dogs.

So let's be honest. Which sounds better? What seems to be the better life – what would you wish for your children, your grandchildren – for yourself? To be wealthy and successful, or to be a beggar? To rest comfortably with the fruits of your labor, or to be poor and wait upon the charity of others? And see, there's the rub spiritually, folks. We know that as good Christians we are to show love to our neighbor, that we are to be kind and charitable. In fact, in that famous “love” chapter in 1 Corinthians 13 – you know; Love is patient, love is kind – the Latin translates it as Charity. And it's a good translation – Christian love is a love that gives with no thought of what it will get in return – it is charity. We know we should be generous, that we should be charitable – but what about receiving charity? What about simply receiving a gift – especially something that you need and can't get for yourself? Oh, we don't like that idea at all! We want to give something back in exchange, we'll make it up to people. We'll make it a loan, or someday I'll wash your back because we cannot stand the thought of being reliant upon others, upon needing them to support us. We are independent! We stand and fall on our own two feet, and we don't need anyone else!

Ponder with me, for a moment, the Lord's prayer. Which person in the story looks more like the Lord's prayer.? Which one would be more apt to pray - “give us this day our daily bread” - which would be more apt to beg of God, “deliver us from evil.” How do you view God? Do you view God thinking that you are like a rich man who needs nothing, who has gotten for yourself everything you need by your own strength and efforts (not seeing how richly God has blessed you), or do you view God thinking of yourself as a beggar, who really only lives on account of the gifts and blessings that God gives you? Do you think you're doing alright and if God would give you some pointers on how to have a better life that would be nice (but you can go without, don't need to bother God too much, after all), or do you see that everything in your life is a gift from God – even your talents, your time, your treasure – and moreover that these gifts are given freely and wondrously to you by God, simply out of His love, out of His charity towards you – where you could do nothing to earn them? Do you think you live independent of God, or do you live only by what He gives you?

“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...” Pause there. Do you see? The rich man, who thought he was just fine on his own and could do all things by himself, dies and is in Hell, in torment. Lazarus, who knew he needed love and support was carried by the angels to the place of comfort. In the Jewish world they didn't talk of “heaven” so much – the good spot in the afterlife was Abraham's bosom, Abraham's side. Do you understand why I put the distinction that I did between the Rich Man and Lazarus – between the pride and arrogance that the Rich Man shows with the humble desire to receive that Lazarus demonstrates? If you think that all that you have is yours by rights, that you have earned it, that the things you have are simply the just deserts of your hard work – well, then you start living like the Rich Man. You become prideful in yourself and callous towards your neighbor who doesn't work as hard as you. But even worse than that, you turn yourself into an idol, you think you are the reason you have stuff, you think you have all the answers, and you stop relying upon God. On the other hand, when you see your own lack, your own weakness, then you realize how much you do rely upon God, how the only way you can live is to live in His love, to live with what He gives you. You learn to see it all as gift – you believe the promises that God makes to you, that He will give you your daily bread, that He will forgive you your trespasses, and that He will deliver you from all evil. You either rely upon God and receive with a glad heart His blessings to you – or you forget God and take pride in what you have – or even worse, you start blaming God and how He has done you wrong because He hasn't done everything the way you would want it.

Consider the Rich Man. Bossy in hell. Think about that – He is bossy in hell. Hey Abraham – send Lazarus over to me in Hell with some water. Have him hop to it. Bossy in hell. And then, when this is impossible – well, go send Lazarus down to my father's house. Just issuing orders, all the while burning in torment. Dare I say like how we can become bossy and rage when we are in pain or hurt or when things don't go how we would want them to go? At any rate, Abraham doesn't put up with it. Send Lazarus? Nope. Abraham says, “They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.” Listen here, buddy – God has given your family the Word of God (in this case specifically the Old Testament), which over and over tells of God's great love to His people, love they don't earn, a steadfast mercy that endures forever, that constantly forgive sins, that promises salvation. That's what they need. That's what they ought to be paying attention to. And yet the bossy rich man still thinks he knows best - “No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent!” Do you catch the arrogance? Forget the Word of God, I know what will work better – send Lazarus back from the dead. But Abraham is the bearer of an unfortunate truth - “If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.” If you make your excuses, you'll just keep on making them. If you are determined to ignore God and think you know better than Him – you'll keep on doing it all the way into hell, just like you, Rich Man, just like you.

The Word of God is hard to hear, because our sinful flesh hates it. Our flesh hates the Word of God because we want to be the hero of our own story – we want to be the cause of every good thing, we want to sing out, “I did it my way” and have everyone laud and praise us for it. Yet, what do the scriptures show? Over and over again they point out the folly of our heart, the error of our ways, the depth of our sin. However much we might try to hide behind the myth that we're good people – the Scriptures show us our sin. No matter how often we boast that we are better than others, the Scriptures remind us that we are dying and but dust. And our sinful flesh hates that. Our flesh hates to be told that were aren't the Rich and powerful – it hates to be told that we are beggars. That we are poor, miserable sinners. And yet, what else does God tell you in His Word? “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of God.” What else does God tell you in His Word? “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.” Or “He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Do you hear? God has chosen to love you, to pour His blessings of not only body but His blessings of soul upon you. He has claimed you as His own in the waters of Holy Baptism and poured His Spirit upon you. He has created in you a clean heart, for He has no desire to cast you from His presence but to have you dwell with Him for all eternity. Indeed, Christ Jesus knows your trials in this life, your struggles against sin – that you are weak and powerless against them – with might of ours could nought be done, soon were our loss effected, but for us fights the valiant One, Whom God Himself elected. Christ fights for you and wins you salvation – and this doesn't rely upon you – indeed, He won it for you before you were even born and could think to offer aid. This is His love for you. This is the truth you have been made to see. That you have all blessings in Christ.

So then, how do you stand before God? Will you strut before Him, brag about your works, your virtue? Will you grouse about how He hasn't given you enough and shake a fist at Him for not humoring every stupid whim of your flesh? Or will you be content to simply confess that you are a beggar, a poor, miserable sinner who flees to God for mercy for the sake of Christ? It is no bad thing to be a beggar, for God is not some cruel rich miser who will leave you to die on His doorstep. No, He will raise you on account of Christ and give you life everlasting. You are a beggar – His beggar. +

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