Sunday, June 06, 2010

Sermon: Trinity 1

6 June 2010 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Luke 16:19-31

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

How many of you have heard this expression: “Money is the root of all evil”?

We might assume that this comes from the Bible, but in fact, it’s a corruption of 1 Timothy 6:10 in which St. Paul writes: “The love of money is a root of all kinds of evils.” It’s not the money that is evil, but rather the love of it – for that is what corrupts a person to be selfish and greedy and to begin to think that he is not just a manager of the Lord’s possessions, but rather the owner.

The love of money turns a person into his or her own personal god. It causes a person to trust himself instead of the Lord, and to listen to his own wants and desires before hearing God’s Word. And the truly sad part is that God’s Word gives to us riches beyond measure, wealth that will never wear out, treasure that can never be spent, abundance that can never fail nor will ever end. It is the highest tragedy when a person shuts out the riches of the Word of God only to exchange it for the dark pottage of a few worldly trinkets that are rotting away anyway.

This is the delusion of trusting in one’s wealth – whether one is wealthy or not. The sin of the rich man in our Lord’s parable is not his being rich in his possessions – but rather in his poverty in his faith and in the Word of God.

Today’s Introit, or entrance Psalm, comes from Psalm 13. We Christians need to keep this on our lips and in our hearts. The rich man in the Lord’s story ended up in hell because he did not heed this Word of God: “O Lord, I have trusted in Your mercy; my heart shall rejoice in Your salvation. I will sing to the Lord, because He has dealt bountifully with me.”

The word bountiful is a reference to wealth. The rich man in our Lord’s parable was wealthy. He wore exquisite and expensive clothing. He “feasted sumptuously every day.” The Lord dealt bountifully with him.

For all that we have comes from the Lord’s bountiful goodness and mercy. The rich man did not trust the Word of God, but rather in himself. He did not hear Moses and the Prophets, but rather the siren song of this world. His heart did not rejoice in salvation, but rather he was loveless to those who were less fortunate. His faith was not in the Lord’s mercy, but rather in his own works. He did not sing to the Lord, but tooted his own horn.

What a contrast to poor Lazarus! He was “covered with sores.” He would have been content with the scraps from the rich man’s table.

He would have prayed with us: “How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?” He may well have felt that God had abandoned him, and even lifted up his voice in a desperate prayer: “Why are you allowing this to happen to me?”

And yet, even in his sadness and poverty, even in his perplexity and questioning of God, and perhaps even in outright anger toward the Lord – Lazarus continues to believe. He holds on to his faith and clings to His Master – even when he does not understand the will of God.

Unlike the rich man, Lazarus is not wallowing in many possessions that can lure him away from the worship of the true God. Lazarus is tempted by his poverty, to be sure. But wealth is an even greater danger to one’s faith – even as our Lord Jesus warns us about camels and eyes of needles and sad young rulers who refuse to follow Jesus because of his many possessions.

But now, the tables are turned. In the afterlife, it is Lazarus who is feasting at table while the rich man is in pain and suffering. And the father of the Jews, Abraham, tells his descendant in the grave: “Child, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner bad things.” What is going unsaid here is that, in life, the rich man could have eased Lazarus’s suffering. He could have shown mercy and charity and love. He could have placed a drop of water on Lazarus’s thirsty tongue – but he chose not to.

And what’s more, the rich man could have helped save not only himself, but also his family, by calling them to repent, by warning them to leave their destructive path. But just as he refused to listen, so too do his brothers. In fact, our Lord prophecies: “If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.”

But even in this tragedy, there is good news, dear friends. Our Lord’s words are hard, but they are a warning. They call us to repent, but they do so while we are able. They remind us not to place our trust in our worldly riches – whether we are wealthy in the world’s eyes or not. Rather, we have been convinced by Him who rose from the dead, by Him who is rich and bountiful and loving and merciful beyond all measure.

For we can truly live from the crumbs that fall from the Lord’s table. Our burning tongues are quenched with the water from the end of His finger. Our sores are comforted and cured by the balm of His forgiveness. And like Lazarus, we will receive good things and be comforted forever – in spite of our questioning of God and our weak faith. Even though we may wonder if God has forgotten us, or even getting angry with Him. We know that God loves us and knows what is best for us – even amid the struggle and suffering that is the hallmark of this fallen world.

We have the gift to repent of our selfishness, of our trust in our own riches, of our callousness toward the poor, and of our desire to feast sumptuously while others are covered in sores. And we pray with the church of every age, along with rich and poor: “Lord, be merciful to me; heal my soul, for I have sinned against You. Blessed is he who considers the poor; the Lord will deliver him in time of trouble.”

There is a world of so-called rich men and their brothers in this fallen world who need to hear the warning not to trust themselves. And they need to hear the good news that our Blessed Lord, rich beyond measure, became poor for our sakes, took on flesh to bear our sins, and went to the cross to be our Savior. And though some will not believe even Him who rose from the dead, others will repent and believe.

And like another Lazarus who encountered the Lord Jesus, we have a resurrection to look forward to. This is the pinnacle of the limitless bounty promised to us by our God, He who is merciful beyond measure, whose riches fall upon us like showers from the heavens.

Whether we are rich or poor in this life, we are rich in the Lord’s mercy. And what’s more, we will be wealthy beyond all imagining in eternity. And when we have joined the saints in Abraham’s bosom, then will the Church sing about us:

Oh, what their joy and their glory must be
Those endless Sabbaths the blessed ones see!
Crowns for the valiant, to weary ones rest;
God shall be all, and in all ever blest.


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

1 comment:

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