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Sermon for the First Sunday after Trinity

by chaz_lehmann ~ June 10th, 2009

Rev. Charles Lehmann + 1st Sunday after Trinity + Luke 16:19-31

In the Name of + Jesus.  Amen.

When I was growing up, Christian bookstores didn’t have finance sections.  Now you can, without much effort, find dozens of books devoted to discovering biblical principles of personal finance.  One is even called, God Wants You To Be Rich.  All of these books are based on one very basic mistake.  They assume that the purpose of the Scriptures is to give us advice on how to live your day to day life.  They look at the Bible as the Christian’s instruction book for daily living.

But that’s not what the Bible is for.  The Bible’s purpose is to show us Jesus.  The Apostle John makes this very clear when he writes, “These things are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His Name.”

If you were to go into any of the many books that try to give Christian principles for peronal finance, there are a lot of passages that deal with economics that would find no place in these books.  You wouldn’t find anything about the man who sells all that he has to buy one pearl.  You wouldn’t read a word about the farmer that sows most of his seed where it can’t possibly grow.  You would find no mention of the shepherd who risks almost everything he owns for the sake of one lost lamb.  There are good reasons for that, of course.  If we based our approach to our finances on these parables, we would lose all that we have and our families would starve to death.

But those aren’t the only passages that these books ignore.  Books that seek to develop Christian principles of personal finance also don’t find much of value today’s Gospel reading.  Our Lord comes to us today and tells us that wealth has nothing to do with our personal possessions.  The wealthy man in today’s reading owns nothing.  He begs at the table of another and dogs lick at his sores.

In their earthly lives, many probably assumed that the situation was exactly the opposite of what it was.  Many probably thought that Lazarus had done something to anger God.  He was crippled, could not work, and had to beg for a living.  Surely this meant that God was punishing him for some great sin.

When we suffer we often assume the same thing about ourselves.  We wonder how God is punishing us.  We look up to heaven and say, “God, what did I do to deserve this?”  How did I fail to follow your “instruction book.”  When we say this, we are assuming that our world is an eye for an eye sort of place.  We assume that if we are suffering, we must have done something to deserve just that sort of suffering.  But when we cry out in frustration and ask what we’re being punished for, we really don’t want the answer.

The true answer to the question is more than we can bear.  The true answer is that we are not suffering the punishment that we deserve for our sin.  If we were, our cries would not be coming from our homes in Maryland, Pennsylvania, or West Virginia.  If we were receiving the punishment we truly deserve, our cries of anguish would be coming from the very fires of hell.

When we ask God what we did to deserve what we’re suffering, what we’re really asking is for some sort of vindication.  We want God to say something like, “Oh, I’m sorry.  You don’t deserve that.  I’m going to make your life better.”  We want God to take us from the gate into the house.  We want to eat the food that’s on the table instead of what’s falling from it.  We want the dogs to be licking the rich man’s sores.

On the other hand, when someone is being blessed like the rich man is in today’s reading, we often assume the very best or the very worst about them.  If we assume the best, then we will say that they earned their fortune.  They are enjoying the just reward for their labors.  We might even look at them longingly and wish that we could be as good and successful as they are.  We might ask, “What good has this man done that God is blessing them so richly?”  This might motivate us to imitate the rich man so that we can receive the same blessings he has received.

This attitude turns God into nothing more than an accountant.  He assesses the value of a person’s deeds and divvies out rewards in fair proportion.  The better you are, the more rich you become.  To the evil, poverty is the only reward.  If you were to visit India, you would find that this way of thinking is by far the most common.  In India many people believe, as they have for centuries, that if someone is poor, they deserve it.  They think that the poor are receiving in this life just what they earned in a previous one.  For this reason it is considered a great evil to help the poor in any way.  To feed the hungry and care for those who cannot care for themselves is to interfere with divine justice.

Another possibility is that we might assume that the rich man has lied, cheated, and stolen his way to the top.  We might suspect that it’s on the back of the poor that he’s gotten to where he is, and we might ask God why He’s being so generous to someone who is so evil.  In that moment we are asking God to give to the rich man the same thing that we complain about when He gives it to us.  Though we deserve the same punishment as the rich man, what we really want is justice for him and mercy for ourselves.

We do have hints about what’s really going on for the rich man and Lazarus in this life.  Lazarus begs at the gate of the rich man’s house.  He’s not allowed to come in.  He has sores that the dogs lick at.  He is not strong enough to drive the dogs away.  The rich man feasts sumptuously every day.  He has the best clothes and the best food.  He does not feed Lazarus from his table.  But the table is so full that enough food falls from it to feed both Lazarus and the rich man’s dogs.

It would seem that at best the rich man ignores Lazarus.  At the worst, he holds him in contempt.  Death, however, changes everything.  In death we see revealed what was hidden in these men’s earthly lives.

When Lazarus dies, he goes into heavenly bliss and rests in Abraham’s bosom.  This means that Lazarus is now with all the saints and his pain and suffering have ended forever.  The rich man, however, is in hell.  He is in flames and suffers eternal agony.

We see now what was true all along.  Lazarus is rich beyond imagining.  The so-called rich man is poor.  He has absolutely nothing of enduring value.  The rich man is now the beggar.  He asks Abraham to send Lazarus to give him just a drop of water to ease his suffering.  Abraham gives the sad truth.  It is not possible.  The rich man has now in its fulness what he had in his earthly life.  He now gets to spend eternity separated from the love of God.  Lazarus also has the fulness now of what he had in his earthly life.  He will continue to enjoy the love and mercy of God for all eternity.  Both of these men received in eternity just what they held onto in life.

The rich man was self-sufficient.  He did not desire to receive good gifts from God.  Now he never will.  Lazarus was a beggar.  He knew that he had nothing of his own.  He held only onto the promises of God.  He now is receiving for all eternity the good that the Lord had promised Him.

When Abraham refuses to send Lazarus to the rich man, the rich man asks for Lazarus to be sent to his brothers.  Abraham responds that the rich man’s brothers already have all that they need.  They have Moses and the Prophets.  They need only listen to what they say.

The rich man disagrees.  He says, “If someone should rise from the dead, they will believe.”  Abraham’s response is simple and devestating.  “If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, ?neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.”

Here, of course, our Lord’s story is telling us about what He was about to do for your salvation.  He was going to the cross to suffer and die to forgive the sins of the whole world.  He had come to His own people, and they had in the Old Testament Scriptures a clear proclamation of who Christ was and what He would do for them.

They had in the Old Testament that Christ would be the human heir of David.  They had that He would sit on David’s throne forever.  They had that He would bear their sin and that He would suffer and die to redeem them.  They had all that they needed to recognize who Jesus was.  But Jesus came to His own, and His own did not receive Him.  Even when He rose from the dead, they did not believe.  They did not believe because they did not believe what Moses and the Prophets had said about Him.

Just like the rich man’s brothers, you have not seen Jesus’ resurrected body with your own eyes.  You have only the testimony of eyewitnesses.  You have only the word that they have spoken about Him.

But in that testimony given by the apostles and inspired by the Holy Spirit you have just want you need.  You have Moses, the Prophets, and the Apostles.  You have the testimony that God has given to you about Himself.  In your baptism you have been begotten as God’s own child and have received all the riches that Lazarus received by faith.

When we are jealous of the rich, God has forgiven us.  When we desire justice for our neighbor instead of the mercy we desire for ourselves, God has taken that sin with Him to the cross.  When we see the Scriptures as an instruction book instead of God’s revelation of Himself and His salvation to us, even that He has forgiven.

According to the sure and certain prophetic word, your Savior has taken all your sin to the cross.  He has suffered for every iniquity that you or anyone else has ever committed.  All of the just wrath of God has been poured out on Him instead of on you.

And so Saint Paul says with joy, “You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.”

Christ is risen, and all the riches of heaven are yours in the cross.

In the Name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

And the peace of God which surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in faith in Christ Jesus.  Amen.

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