Trinity 1 – June 22nd and 23rd, 2019 – Luke 16:19-31
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 +
“No, father Abraham.” You may not realize it, but those are some of the most shocking words in the Bible right there. Jesus is telling a story, the tale of Lazarus and the wicked Rich Man, and from torment in Hades, the Rich Man gives Abraham some sass. That would be unthinkable – I can't think of something as shocking today. We're Americans, we're used to complaining and backtalking to anyone – but this was just not done. It would be like me trying to teach Michael Jordan how to really dunk a basket ball, but that's not even close. If you didn't backtalk your grandma, you certainly didn't backtalk Father Abraham!
So, how we did get here? What was the idea that was so offensive to this Rich Man in hell that he figured he needed to run his mouth? Abraham had just said, “They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.” The question of salvation has been raised, the question of how one avoids hell, how one is saved. And Abraham's answer is simple – listen to the Word of God. It's actually a profound answer on Abraham's part – the Bible was written after Abraham's day – Moses lived over 5 Centuries later. Abraham sees what a fantastic gift the Scriptures are – one he would have given his eye teeth for. But the Rich Man, he couldn't care less about the Bible. “No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.” Eh - the bible is worthless – who cares about that? Send them something flashy. Lazarus back from the dead, that will grab attention, right? To which Abraham gives the answer: “If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.” And it's true. Jesus did plenty of Miracles, and the crowds went wild... but most of them soon fell away. Miracles are like fads – always need something new to keep your interest. And even when Jesus was raised from the dead Himself, and appeared to folks over and over – so many just went “meh.” Why? Father Abraham would suggest that it is because they didn't hear the Word of God in the Scriptures.
As Jesus had told the story, it was pretty clear that the Rich Man hadn't paid much attention to the Scriptures, just from the set up. “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.” Dude is rich and doesn't even give the beggar at his door his table scraps. He's a grade A jerk, right? Well not just that. Let's think about what this means from what the Scriptures teach. The Old Testament was filled with things instructing the rich to care for the poor. First of all, that whole idea of “love your neighbor” is all throughout the Old Testament. Or think on the 2nd table of the Ten Commandments, or the meanings from the Catechism. 5th Commandment – help your neighbor in his body and life - 7th Commandment – help your neighbor protect and improve his possessions and income. But more than that – the scraps language. The scraps always were to go to the poor. When you harvested a field, you were forbidden from picking up the grain that fell on the ground – that was for the poor. That's what Ruth is doing in the book of Ruth – she's gleaning. Or the Passover meal – if you had too much, you would invite your poorer neighbors. The Rich Man is utterly ignoring the Word. And why? Well – that Word of God would tell him that He is wrong. It would show him his sin. And he doesn't want that.
My friends, we are tempted to not want that either. We're tempted to avoid the Word of God because it shows us our sin. And we fight against that – we have developed this nasty habit in modern religious culture where we read the Bible to show other people their sins while nicely skating past our own. “Well, see here – this fella is being a jerk.” “That's nice, and the bible says to love your enemies, so how are you loving him?” “The bible says that homosexuality is a sin.” “You're right, it does – and you're straight and it says looking at someone of the opposite sex with lust is a sin too – how's that working out for you?” God's law isn't meant to be a hammer to bash your neighbor over the head with and justify your ill treatment of them – it's a hammer God uses to crush our own pride and arrogance, to drive us to repentance. And we don't like that. So we try to apply the Scriptures to others instead of us.
As an example of this – how many of you heard of this rich man and thought, “You know, I'm awfully rich”? Because you are. How many of you are wearing decent clothes? A rich man in Jesus' day would have had maybe 10-20 changes of clothes. How many of you have more than that in your closet? Or feasting sumptuously – how many of you have plans for a tasty meal after service? Americans on average eat 220 pounds of meat a year – that's more than the typical person in Jesus' day would eat in 20 or 30 years. And that's just comparing with the past – Currently, if you pull in more than $32K a year, you are in the top 1% of earners in the world. So, hearing about the Rich Man in the text, did you hear about some jerk over there, or did you hear a warning about temptations you yourself face? “They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.”
Of course, even Lazarus shows us another reason why we fear to hear the Word of God. He's the “good guy” in the text. The believer – ends up in heaven. Yea! But... what's his life like? “Moreover, even the dogs came and licked his sores.” It seems as though the Christian faith isn't a magic bullet to get out of pain and suffering. Being a Christian doesn't mean that suddenly everything will go great in terms of health. We've had a lot of names on our prayer list who have been there for quite some time. But more than that, the scriptures actually teach that as a Christian you will suffer more. What do you think loving your neighbor actually entails – it means hardship to you for their benefit. And being a Christian means people will reject you. Being a Christian means you'll be given crosses to bear, to bear for the sake of your family and friends and neighbors. And again, this is something in the Scriptures that we don't like to hear.
And thus the Rich Man looks at Abraham and says, “No, Father Abraham!” The Scriptures show us the harsh and brutal realities of our lives as sinners in a sinful world – that there are things that we fail to do, that we are stuck in a world that will always be rife with suffering. That we will eat bread by the sweat of our brow and die, that the poor we will always have with us, that death will always hound us here. And these are things that our old sinful flesh cannot stand, cannot bear. But, my friends, you are no longer just a sinner – oh, a sinner you are with faults, grievous faults even – but you are also a saint, a holy one of God, redeemed by Christ Jesus. Because while the Scriptures do show you your sin, the most wondrous thing is that the Scriptures are also the story of Christ Jesus, the Messiah. They are the story of the One who was promised to Adam and Eve even while they were still naked and ashamed in the garden having just fallen. They are the story of the One who was promised to Father Abraham as His descendant in whom all nations would be blessed. They are the story of the One who would sit on David's throne, they are the story of the Job's Redeemer, they are the story of Emmanuel – God with Us.
And then Jesus comes. And what happens? Well, He fulfills the law. He does what we can't. He actually loves His neighbor, over and over and over again. He takes all that He has and gives and gives. And as for sin, well, He who knew no sin became sin for us – He takes our sin upon Himself and He goes to the Cross. And does the Christian life mean you'll face suffering for the good of your neighbor, even to the point of death? Well, it did for Jesus – and He does it. For you. That's what's in the Scriptures, that is what Moses and the Prophets teach – that is what the Gospels and the Epistles teach, over and over again – that while our sin is great, actually and truly great no matter how we like to dance around it – Christ Jesus our Savior is actually greater.
And then the comfort. And then the consolation. Because Christ Jesus does not and will not ever fail you; He never fails to be merciful and gracious to you, to forgive you, to strengthen you to see you through the trials of your life until He delivers you from them – that is why He taught us to pray “But deliver us from evil.” He redeems you, forgives you, and uses you for His good. And that is where we live by faith.
And that is why He brings us together here. So that we all hear the Word of God from each other, so that we don't stop up our ears and wander off, but so that we hear His Word and are brought to repentance and forgiveness again. So that we are gathered here as the Baptized around His table and get not scraps but His own Body and Blood to forgive us, to strengthen us both in faith towards God and love toward our neighbor. This is a Word place, a hearing the Word place. And it's not always pretty. Of course its not – the Scriptures speak about us, and we are not always pretty. In fact, sometimes our lives are just down right messy. That's no surprise to Jesus – He took that all in hand even before the Creation of the world and planned out your salvation. And His Spirit calls you here to keep you and preserve you in His Word. He has given us Moses and the Prophets, the Gospels and the Epistles – let us hear them and thus always see Jesus our Savior. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +