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Sermon for Trinity I (St. Luke 16:19-31)

by Rev. Brian Hamer ~ September 24th, 2009

Dearly Beloved, the Psalmist said, “O Lord, I have trusted in Thy mercy.” This echoes the first commandment, “You shall have no other gods,” as well as Luther’s explanation, “We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things.” Today’s Gospel lesson is largely a parable on the first commandment and what it means to trust in God’s mercy. For here we learn a fundamental lesson on trusting in God in the midst of life and death, heaven and hell, and Law and Gospel.

The parable of the rich man and Lazarus is a study in contrasts. The rich man was clothed in purple (the color of royalty) and linen (the fabric of the rich). He “fared sumptuously every day,” a fancy way of saying that he was a playboy, one who did not need to work and spent his time over-indulging himself instead of worshiping God and helping his neighbor in need. Some of you may have heard this parable called “The parable of Dives and Lazarus,” but the name Dives comes from the Latin word for rich and is not a proper name. And this is important, for the lack of a name given to the rich man suggests that he is not one of God’s children, for God calls all of his children by name. By contrast, Lazarus was a beggar, the lowest position on the social ladder. He was full of sores, a common trait among the homeless. He was laid at the rich man’s gate, hoping for but a few crumbs from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores, making him lower than the animals. But what happened when the two men died? Lazarus died “and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom.” But the rich man “died and was buried,” a blunt phraseology that implies the grave was the end of the road for him, with no mention of eternal life.

Here we must pause and consider our own status in this contrast between life on earth and life after death. Are we the image of the rich man, having it all here and now but feeling a spiritual void inside? Or are we the image of Lazarus, having nothing in this life, but trusting in God’s mercy for eternal life? Here we must recall a story from St. Luke 12, the parable of the rich fool. After admonishing his hearers that their life is not about possessions, Jesus told the story of a rich man with a plentiful harvest, many barns, and lots of time on his hands. Recall that the rich fool resolved to build more barns, to keep collecting more things, and to eat, drink and be merry. But how did God react? “You fool! This night your soul will be required of you; then who will those things be which you have provided?” And Jesus concluded, “So is he who lays up treasures for himself, and is not rich toward God.” How fitting that Jesus told the parable of the rich man and Lazarus to “Pharisees who were lovers of money” (16:14). In whom, then, do you trust? Do you trust in your possessions or in the Creator who entrusted them to you? Do you cheerfully give a full 10% of your income to church or do you store it up in the greedy barn of the sinful heart and give Jesus paltry leftovers? Do you use your possessions to benefit the Lazarus’s at your gate or do you obsess over yourself? Again, from the Psalm, “O Lord, I have trusted in Thy mercy.” So beware of trusting in your possessions, like the rich men in Luke’s Gospel. Rather, subordinate them to God the Father by tithing from your income, by using your abundance for the good of your neighbor, and by trusting alone in God, who is merciful to you in Christ.

As for the rich man and Lazarus, their story continues in eternity. Now their fortunes are reversed. The rich man from this life is now the beggar in the after-life: he was dead and buried, he was in hell and torment, and he was crying out for mercy. But Lazarus, the beggar from this life, is now the rich man in Christ: he was in heaven, he was reclining in Abraham’s bosom, and he fared sumptuously every day in the presence of Christ. And how did the rich man respond to this reversal? He asked Abraham to send Lazarus to ease his suffering. Abraham reminded him of what we call the “great reversal” – in God’s kingdom, everything is the opposite (the reverse) of what we would expect. The rich man has become the poor man and the poor man has become the rich man. Moreover, the condition of the elect and the damned in eternity is fixed and immutable. No one can pass from heaven to hell or from hell to heaven, for they are immutably fixed as the abode of the spiritually poor and the paradise of those who are rich in Christ.

This teaches us the importance of seeing our entire life on earth in the light of eternal life. As a sinner, are you the image of the rich man, worrying more about your life here and now than your eternal destiny? Do you covet, indicating trust in the self instead of God? Are you so concerned about yourself that church attendance and your personal devotional life are put on hold for other things? Do you have all the time in the world for the secondary events at church, but no time to set foot in Bible study? Do you consider yourself to be the center of your own existence? Do you fear, love, and trust in your own power, prestige, and wealth above all other things? Repent! For all sin leads to unbelief and unbelief lead to eternal death in hell. But as a saint in Christ, are you poor in spirit through daily repentance? Rejoice and be glad, for great is your reward in heaven. Do you fear, love, and trust in God above all things? Do you honor God’s name and call upon it in your daily need? Do you hold high esteem for preaching and His Word, both in our liturgical life together and in you devotional life at home? In Christ, we believers say ‘yes,’ for He has done all these things for us. So with Lazarus, we receive Christ’s own reward here and now – forgiveness, life, and salvation in word and sacrament. And the gifts right here in this Christian church count for eternity, teaching us to pray at the foot of the cross, “O Lord, I have trusted in Thy mercy; my heart shall rejoice in Thy salvation.”

Even the rich man, whose soul was defiled by false doctrine, finally understood the eternal consequences of the right preaching of Law and Gospel. He asked Abraham to send Lazarus to his five brothers, that they might escape eternal torment in hell. And how did Abraham respond? “They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.” That is to say, “They have the OT and its abiding message: forgiveness of sins by grace through faith in the coming, suffering Messiah. They have the Apostles and even Christ Himself and their word of the cross and resurrection. They have a great company of preachers. Let them hear them!” But the rich man was not so sure about whether his brothers would get anything out of the preached word: “No, father Abraham; but if one goes to them from the dead, they will repent.” Was he right? Did Jesus’ resurrection change the mind of the unbelieving Pharisees, to whom this parable was told? No. In fact, the word of Jesus’ resurrection only hardened their hearts against the gospel. Abraham got it right when he replied, “If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead.” If you believe the Word of God, you will believe in the resurrection. But those who reject the preached word will also reject the resurrection.

So it is for us. As sinners, we trust in ourselves when we see church attendance as just one option among others on Sunday morning; when we have all the time in the world to work for the church and socialize within the church, but no time to study the Word of God; when we hold powerful offices in a covetous and self-centered way, rejoicing in our power, but not lifting a finger to fulfill our assigned duties; when we find other things to do during church or Bible study; when we decide whether or not to participate in the means of grace based on whether or not we have been given enough responsibilities to fulfill that particular day; and when we focus more on my personal comfort and convenience in the service than on the word of the cross and resurrection. Repent! But as saints, we receive the preached word and learn to trust in God’s mercy when we faithfully hear and believe the word of the cross and resurrection. When, by God’s grace, we hear the word of Jesus ‘death for our sins and his resurrection for our justification, we are hearing the good news of God’s mercy in Christ. “I baptize you in the name of the [Trinity].” That is to say, God’s mercy is poured abundantly in these waters, giving us forgiveness and eternal salvation. And baptismal waters continue to cover us when the pastor says, “I forgive you all your sins.” We believe the word of forgiveness, we trust in the mercy that sent the Son of God to die for us, and we bank our entire life on that mercy. And today, God says to us, “Take eat / drink; true body / true blood.” We hear these word, we believe in God’s sure and certain promise, and we trust that God is hard at work in this Sacrament to strengthen and preserve us to everlasting life, where, with Lazarus the beggar, eternally may we have rest.

 And so today we pray with the Psalmist, with Lazarus, and with all the Faithful, “O Lord, I have trusted in Thy mercy.” Perhaps our collect of the day puts it best: “O God, the strength of all that put their trust in Thee, mercifully accept our prayers; and because through the weakness of our mortal nature we can do no good thing without Thee, grant us the help of Thy grace that in keeping Thy commandments we may please Thee both in will and deed.” INJ. Amen.

 

 

Rev. Brian Hamer

Redeemer Lutheran Church, Bayside, NY

1 Response to Sermon for Trinity I (St. Luke 16:19-31)

  1. Charles James

    In face of the attractions of this life we need to choose God everyday. We need the constant reminder that "man does not live by bread alone". The difficulty that we christians face today, among other things, is the unbelief of the "world" in which the here and now is more valuable to what will be ours after death.

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