Sunday, June 14, 2009

Sermon: Holy Trinity 1

14 June 2009 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Luke 16:19-31 (Gen 15:1-6, 1 John 4:16-21)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

Our blessed Lord tells the tragic tale of the rich man and Lazarus to people living in the first century Roman Empire. We might be tempted to think of our Lord’s listeners as primitive and unlike ourselves. But we have quite a bit in common with the first century Romans.

They lived in the greatest and richest country in the world, the only standing superpower that had long since defeated its only rival. The nation, through sheer military might, made it inconceivable to be attacked. To the people living well within the nation’s borders, there was no hint of war.

The people of the empire were patriotic, proud of their military personnel, enjoying a great deal of economic freedom (though stuck with a lot of unpopular taxes). To be a citizen of Rome was something the whole world envied. Roman money was good everywhere. The Roman language was to become an international standard.

The Romans had technology, commerce, and a vibrantly diverse people. They lived in everything from massive country villas to small urban apartments. They frequented malls and taverns. They had not only running water, but magnificent fountains. They had not only public bathrooms, but public spas. Their roads and bridges were the envy of the world.

They also loved sports and leisure, filling huge stadiums, racetracks, and arenas with cheering fans. They loved big shows, the theater, and all the gossip concerning how the foreign wars were going, all the intrigue in the Senate, and the dirty laundry in the emperor’s family.

In the midst of this grand existence in the world’s greatest country were the people of God. And they were quite often distracted by what the world had to offer.

There is nothing wrong with enjoying the fruits of one’s labor. There is nothing wrong with being wealthy. But our Lord is telling us to be careful. He is admonishing us to keep our priorities straight.

The rich man in the story, a son of Abraham, who “was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day” had lost track of what was really important. God had blessed him with great wealth, and then gave him a golden opportunity to show love to another son of Abraham: a poor man by the name of Lazarus. But the rich man was distracted by the greatest things the booming Roman economy had to offer. He chose the passing things of this world over that which truly lasts: mercy, compassion, and love.

The rich man chose his god: Mammon. This son of Abraham forgot the covenant with Abraham, and made a false god to serve instead. The rich man lost his faith in the Creator by putting his faith in his own creature comforts.

What a sad commentary that his brother in Christ sat in his magnificent gate, miserable and “covered with sores, who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table.” We have no reason to believe Lazarus was lazy, deserving of his fate, and just looking to get over on the rich man who earned his wealth. Lazarus is apparently no slacker.

But the real tragedy is not Lazarus’s poverty, his sores being licked by dogs, his short life of squalor and misery – for these things all passed away with this age. The real tragedy is that the rich man never came to his senses – until it was too late.

Suffering the pangs of hell when his own short life ended, the rich man had become bereft of hope. Even his begging to send an envoy to his brothers went unheeded. For as Abraham pointed out, they already have “Moses and the prophets” warning them. And when a person has made a god out of Mammon, when he has bartered his faith away for selfishness, no amount of Scripture, no amount of preaching, no amount of exhortation will bring about repentance. This hardened unbelief is the “unforgiveable sin” our Lord warns us about.

Not even the testimony of the risen Christ will convert a person who has so turned against the faith by turning inward onto himself.

Dear brothers and sisters, our Lord has given us a stern warning. He is not beating up on the rich, nor turning poverty into a virtue. Rather, he is pleading with us to serve God, not money. He is pleading with us to have the right set of priorities, love over money, compassion over personal comfort, the Creator over the creature. God promises us abundant blessings. “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness,” he says, “and all these things will be added to you.” The rich man could have continued to enjoy the blessings of wealth in this life and in the next – had he not wandered from the worship of the true God to the deluded worship of what the world had to offer – which became, in fact, the worship of himself.

For our Lord tells all of us to “seek first” God’s kingdom: rich, poor, and everyone in between. We all have the obligation to support the work of the Church, to support the work of mercy, to support those in need – starting with our family members, our brothers and sisters in this congregation, and finally, to all our fellow men in this world. The ongoing work of the Church is not the burden of the rich, but of all of us. We should give to our Lord in proportion to what He has given us.

For what has He given us, dear friends? He has given us, His forgiven children, the same thing he gave Lazarus: eternal life in Paradise! He has forgiven all our sins, brought us into communion with the Triune God, and remade us into new people – all by grace, all in spite of our own unworthiness.

Let us not lose sight of this, dear friends. There is great need – in our congregation, in our community, and across the globe. If you have been graced with wealth, you have been given the gift to use it as a tool to do good in this fallen and suffering world for the sake of the kingdom! Even if you’re not wealthy, you can still support the work of the Church and of those who help those in need with your offerings. Think of all the blessings we enjoy – leisure and comfort, house and home, family and friends. If the Lord has blessed you with these, you can certainly support the work of the kingdom with some of the bounty the Lord has shared with you and entrusted you to manage.

And even if you don’t have any money at all, you can use other gifts. Maybe you can cook. Maybe you can visit those in need. Maybe you can offer a kind word. And even if you are homebound and feel that you are unable to do anything, that is not true. That is a lie of Satan. For you can pray for your brethren. And that is the greatest work of all in God’s kingdom.

We are surrounded by wealth, technology, comfort, sumptuous food, sports, theater, malls, fine clothing, and 24 hours a day of talk about celebrities and politics. We are no better and no worse than the people of God who lived under the Roman culture and government. The Lord is warning us to stay focused on God’s kingdom because it is so easy to become distracted. The Holy Spirit inspired this parable to be written so that it might be read, meditated upon, preached, and taken to heart by the Church until the Lord returns.

And whether we are rich, poor, or somewhere in the middle – there is a little “rich man” inside of us who only wants to serve himself, his lusts, his material greed, and all the rusting junk this world has to offer. But there is also a Lazarus in every baptized Christian, one who is called to serve the Lord in humility, one who stores up treasure in heaven, one who knows his real wealth lies not in what he has earned, but in what the Lord has earned on His behalf at the cross.

Let us repent. Let us heed the warning of Moses and the Prophets, the Word of God, the preaching of our Lord, and the testimony of His resurrection, now and unto eternity. Amen.

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

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