Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Sermon: Wednesday of Trinity 1

13 June 2007 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA Text: Luke 16:19-31

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

There’s an old saying: “The rich get richer, and the poor get poorer.” Our Lord Himself said as much in the Parable of the Talents: “For to everyone who has, more will be given, and he will have abundance, but from him who does not have, even what he has will be taken away.”

In our Gospel text, Jesus makes the same point by telling a different parable.

Of course, to our sinful flesh and to the world, the very opposite seems true. There are two men in this little tale. One is not given a name, he is simply called “a certain rich man.” He wears the finest clothes and eats the best meals. The other is a beggar. He is hungry, and his skin is covered with sores. There could not be a greater contrast between the “haves” and the “have nots” here.

But like all great short stories, there is a twist in the plot. Our Lord Jesus takes us to scene two. Both men die, and we find out that what seemed to be wealth, security, and happiness in the eyes of the world, as judged by our sinful flesh, was nothing more than an illusion. Our “rich” man was in fact poor. He had a few trinkets that wear out, and temporary comforts that are useless now. For he amassed “treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy,” forsaking the true treasures of the kingdom of God For where his treasure was, there was his heart. And his heart was with the gifts instead of with the Giver.

The poverty of our so-called rich man is apparent for all to see. For he is too poor to even buy a thimble of water, too poor to hire transportation to go the short distance that separates himself from Abraham’s Bosom. He is too poor to engage a messenger to warn his brothers of what is to come unless they forsake the path that leads to the poor rich man’s fate.

But consider the beggar. In the eyes of the world, his life was worthless. He wore rags. He ate garbage. His festering wounds were licked by dogs. He was despised, stricken, smitten, and afflicted. He was laughed at. People wagged their heads at him. He was rejected by his own people, the smug, the well-to-do, the spiritually arrogant. And yet, this beggar was truly rich – in spite of appearances, and in spite of the sinful world’s erroneous conclusions.

For what the beggar lacked in trinkets, in gadgets, in luxuries, in wasteful indulgence, in trust in his own possessions, he made up for in his faith. We know the beggar was a believer, for after his death, he was “carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom.”

With the eyes of this sinful flesh, we see a loser, a man cursed of God, a person to be ignored or even trampled. But with the eyes of faith we see a man wealthy beyond all measure, a son of God, an heir of all things in the universe, a man whose treasure is in heaven.

The rich get richer, and the poor get poorer. To him who has, more will be given. To him who has not, even that will be taken away.

Of course, this strikes us as terribly unfair. Why doesn’t God take a more Marxist approach and take from him who has, and share with him who has not? Why doesn’t God allow the rich man’s brothers to be warned? Why didn’t God intervene in the life of the rich man to prevent him from the torment he suffers now?

Our Lord Jesus addresses this in the shocking conclusion of the story. For God indeed did warn the rich man. For God’s messenger, the reverend Father Abraham tells the poor rich man: “They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.” All the world has been warned not to be deceived by transient worldly riches, by all that glitters, by the passing things of this world. For material things are not bad – in fact, our Lord called all creation “good” at creation. But they do become bad when they are misused, when they become false gods, when they become impediments for God’s kingdom.

The rich man was so distracted by the shiny things of this world that he spent a lifetime ignoring the desperate pleas of God’s prophets and of the Holy Scriptures. God did indeed come to him in many and various ways, but the man would not listen. He chose to serve Mammon instead of the God who so earnestly wished to take him into Paradise, into Abraham’s Bosom.

The rich man protests to Father Abraham: “But if one goes to them from the dead, they will repent.” Jesus delivers the punch line, the moral of the story, through the mouth of Father Abraham: “If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead.”

Those blinded by riches, those who turn God’s good and gracious gifts into idols, those who serve their own bellies instead of their neighbors – will neither be convinced by Scripture, nor by the historic reality of the empty tomb. Their ears are shut up, their hearts are hardened, and they have decided to suffer eternal poverty for the sake of a few temporary comforts.

Dear brothers and sisters, our Lord is warning us. Don’t be deceived as the rich man was. Don’t allow Satan to win you over by tempting you with baubles. For the evil foe tried that with our Lord in the desert, and our Lord spurned him with Scripture. It was also in the desert that John the Baptist lived, and in baptism, you are given riches beyond measure.

Your baptism, your faith, your status as a son of God is of infinitely more value than anything this world can give. Any one of us can lose every one of our material possessions in the blink of an eye. But no calamity by fire or water can take away your baptism, can negate the Word of God, can undo the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. Any one of us could end our life in this world with not even a bed of our own, covered with sores, in hunger and in pain. And even if the world mocks us or ignores us, we have treasure beyond compare.

We who are rich will indeed be richer. For our Lord is lavish. He shares all that he has with those whom he loves. But those who are poor (even if they appear rich to the world) will indeed be poorer. For our Lord pleads with them to come into His kingdom, he beckons, he cajoles, he woos. At times he uses the stick, other times he dangles the carrot. He himself is the wounded beggar who gives his life for those who reject him, pleading for them to repent and seek first the kingdom of God – promising that all other things will be added as well. But our Lord will not compel. He will not force. He will not drag a person kicking and screaming into true riches and into Abraham’s Bosom.

Let us store up riches in heaven, dear friends. Let us continue to hear Moses and the prophets – for they have good news for us, and many riches to bestow on us. Let us be persuaded by Him who has indeed risen from the dead, the beggar who is indeed a king, the One who promises to send his angels to carry us to Abraham’s Bosom. Let us hear the Word of God, and keep it. Let us rejoice in the riches of the sumptuous feast laid before us this evening. Let us enjoy the things of this world, while knowing where our true treasure lies. And let us remember our baptismal treasure that cleanses our wounds and gives us riches on top of our riches.

For the rich do indeed get richer, now and unto eternity.

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.


Rev. Shane R. Cota said...

Hey, where did you find that picture in color? I had it in black and white on my bulletin cover this past Sunday (from Great sermon too?

Rev. Shane R. Cota said...

Opps, I didn't mean to have a question mark on the comment about your sermon.

Father Hollywood said...

Fr. Shane:

I found the picture by a GIS (google image search). I don't remember the keywords I used - maybe "Lazarus" and "beggar" or some such.

Happy hunting, and thanks for the all-too kind words.