Monday, September 27, 2010

Sermon - Luke 16:19-31 - Pentecost 18

Luke 16:19-31
September 26th, 2010
“The Rich Man and Lazarus, Faith and the Word”

Once upon a time, we are told, there lived a rich man - dressed in the best and living high on the hog. And at his gate, poor Lazarus, begging for crumbs and getting none, licked by the dogs. No happy ending or just desserts in this world, Lazarus dies in poverty. Mr. Moneybags dies too, but apparently enjoyed his great wealth to the end.

But justice is served, as the rich man goes to torment. Lazarus goes to paradise, even stands with Father Abraham. We could end the story right here, but Jesus doesn't. The real point isn't that the good and the poor go up, and the rich and the wicked go down. The real point is to come....

In torment, the rich man begs for mercy, but it is too late, and the chasm is too wide. What's done is done. Abraham respects God's judgment and won't change it. And this should rightly terrify every sinner. For sin brings suffering, and we deserve it now, and forever – temporal and eternal. And if we are sinners – the rich man is us!

But perhaps there is hope. Lazarus made it out from a living death to a life after death – a life in glory – a blessed hope. How is this done? Can we receive the same? Must we become poor and sick and live a life with the dogs? Take a vow of poverty and live in a monastery?

But wait, the patriarch Abraham was one of the wealthiest men of his day. He had kings paying tribute to him! So it can't just be that wealth is damnable, and that anyone well off is automatically doomed. There must be more...

Maybe if we just tried hard to be nice to people, or at least to poor people. Remember, Abraham was nice to Lot – he gave him his choice of the good land or the poor land. Abraham even risked his own life to save Lot when Lot was taken captive. But then again, Abraham wasn't so nice to poor Hagar and Ishmael – when he exiled them to the desert with few provisions.

It's worth us asking, how do we treat the poor? Must we automatically give to everyone with his hand out? Or are we so stingy that we never help another, give to one in need, or provide a morsel for the truly hungry? Surely we sin when it comes to our care of the poor. Surely there's a Lazarus at our gate from time to time that we fail to love as a neighbor. And for these sins let us repent, lest we share the fate of the rich man in torment!

But proper use of our wealth isn't what gets us to Abraham's bosom, or into God's good graces. Only faith saves, and only that faith in God's son.

Abraham had it. He believed God's promises of the Messiah, and God reckoned it to him as righteousness. Abraham was a rich man, but he was far richer in faith – as God gave him an astonishing trust in the promises of progeny, land and salvation.

Lazarus had it, or he would never have made it across the chasm. It wasn't his poverty that saved him, his lowly state. Though it isn't spelled out in the story, he too must have trusted in God's promises for an eternal dwelling. He had faith.

And we have it too... for the same God gives it to us. And there's only one way he promises to give it.

The rich man in torment finally showed concern for someone else. It's a testament to how terrible God's judgment is – that even this wicked man doesn't want anyone to suffer what he does. So he begs Abraham to send Lazarus back from the dead to scare his brothers into repentance.

But it won't work. Even if someone rises from the dead, they will not believe. Rises from the dead. Now there's a clue! Who in fact did rise from the dead? Jesus, telling this story, drops a not-so-subtle hint about his own destiny.

He would die. Powerless and humble like poor Lazarus. Thirty. Surrounded by dogs (that's what Jews called the Romans). Jesus would, however, suffer the torment of the Rich Man, indeed the wrath of God for all. And there was not even a drop of mercy to soothe that suffering. The full force of God's anger over all sin was upon him, Jesus.

But this is the good news for us. Jesus did rise from the dead. And this ultimate sign of his divinity, this ultimate proof of his authority, this ultimate seal of approval by the Father on his perfect sacrifice – the resurrection means everything for us believers. Paul says without it, our faith is in vain.

For the unbeliever, even a resurrection won't convince them. But for us the risen Christ is everything!
And Abraham points us in one final direction. He says that the rich man's brothers “have Moses and the prophets”. In other words, the Word of God.

If you don't hear the word and believe it, you won't even believe a miracle. But we are directed to the word. For faith comes by hearing. The Good News of Jesus gives the faith that it demands. So we hear, and so we believe!

Just as you have come to believe through the preaching and teaching you have heard – so do all believers in Christ.

Just as you received the gift of faith in the watery word of baptism, so do all who are sealed for eternity in Christ.

And as Jesus words of testament still stand promising grace in his body and blood, given with bread and wine, even today we hear the word, receive the word, and with it all the riches of his Grace.

He, Jesus, bridges the chasm between heaven and hell for all believers in him, through his word. He, Jesus, suffers and dies to free us from suffering and death. He becomes poor to make us rich – not in earthly riches – but with eternal blessings.

And then there's that other Lazarus, the brother of Mary and Martha – the one that Jesus did raise from the dead. Perhaps a good reminder that his promise is the same for us. At his return, we too will rise. At his coming, we will live with him in glorified bodies and souls.

Rich or poor, high or low, hear the good news of Jesus – believe in his word – and trust in his promises of life even though we die. Life with all the saints and with him forever. Amen.

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