Sunday, June 22, 2014

Sermon: Trinity 1 – 2014

22 June 2014

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

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

There is a very popular movie in the theaters called “Heaven is For Real.”  Our Lord’s parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man could well be entitled: “Hell is For Real.”  Of course, we like it when little boys tell us how beautiful heaven is, but who really wants to hear our blessed Lord fill us in on the terrors of hell?

Hell is an embarrassment to modern Christians.  And let’s face it, we really don’t want to believe anyone is condemned except for a few mass murderers like Hitler and Stalin, as well as terrorists, pedophiles, and people we don’t like.  Some people who call themselves Christians refuse to believe in hell at all.  It must not be for real.  There must be some kind of mistake.  Jesus is a nice guy.  He’s not the kind of guy that gets mad and overturns tables and chases people out of buildings with homemade whips or anything like that.

Atheists often think they have a “gotcha” when they ask how a loving God can send anyone to hell.  After all, you heard it with your own ear from the pen of St. John: “God is love.” 

But, dear friends, it is because God is love that he separates the sheep from the goats, He drowned the world that refused to repent and He saved eight people on the ark, those who were counted righteous, who believed in Him and His promises.  Had God not been loving, His people would have had to endure further degradation and corruption by the world that had gone mad with selfishness, violence, hatred, and unbelief.

But consider the Lord’s parable.  Think about this “rich man” who is in hell.  Are you any different?  You may not see yourself as rich, dear friends, but do you have a house?  Running water?  Food every day?  Air conditioning?  A telephone?  How about a flat screen TV?  Cable?  A car?  Maybe more than one?  How about books and movies and games and hobbies and spare time and vacations?  Now consider how the vast majority of the world’s seven billion souls live each and every day.  So now, do you think all of us might actually be materially rich?

To be sure, this man is not in hell because he is rich, but because of his attitude.  He is not in the eternal flames because he “was clothed in purple and fine linen” and “feasted sumptuously every day.”  But rather the way he held his neighbor Lazarus in contempt.  This poor man was “covered with sores.”  He longed for the rich man’s table scraps.  Did the rich man ever allow Lazarus to pass his gate?  Would the rich man have ever considered easing Lazarus’s suffering?  Or was he too busy enjoying his wealth and looking the other way?

Dear friends, do we ever look down on the poor?  Do we ever shun the homeless?  Do we know of people who are suffering in our families, our neighborhoods, our congregation, our circle of friends, or even within eyeshot – and we pretend not to see?  Do we spend more on entertainments and trifles than we do actually doing good with the money the Lord has blessed us with?  It is, after all, His money, isn’t it?  We are only managers.  Do we tithe and trust in the Lord’s provision?  Or do we instead hoard our wealth, burying our talents in the ground, and thinking about how to make ourselves increasingly more comfortable while the Lazaruses in our own lives continue to have their sores licked by the dogs?

So, dear friends, are we Lazarus in the story, or are we the rich man?  Whom do we most resemble?

This parable is not a cute happy Hollywood story like Heaven is for Real.  This is truly real, because it is God’s Word and it does not skirt the issue of sin. 

The rich man is in hell because of sin – unrepentant, unforgiven sin.  He carries it in his sinful flesh, and it comes out in his sinful actions.  He carries this sinful nature with him to the grave and beyond.  And in the end, he begs, and to no avail, for just a drop of water, or even to go back and warn his family that hell is for real.  Abraham tells him it wouldn’t matter, for “If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.”

Our Lord Jesus did just that, dear friends.  He rose from the dead after He descended into Hell.  And Jesus does tell us Hell is for Real.  Jesus wants your attention, and He wants it right now.  Jesus wants you to listen carefully to this parable, for it is a warning.  Read it again when you get home.  Meditate on it.  Do you hear Moses and the Prophets?  And where do you go to hear them?  How often do you hear them?  Where can you read what Moses and the Prophets wrote?  Or is it more important to be entertained, to be well-clothed and to feast sumptuously, to waste hour after hour on things that in the end, in eternity, mean nothing?

Dear friends, please listen to our Lord.  He is calling all of us to repent.  We are the rich man in this parable, and it should fill us with dread – dread that drives us to the cross, dread that compels us to seek the Lord while He is to be found.  We should indeed “fear, love, and trust in God above all things,” and there is a part of us that should fear condemnation and hell.

“For fear has to do with punishment,” says St. John, “and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.”  Are you perfect in love?  I’m not.  And you’re probably not either.  And if you don’t fear God’s wrath, you are in greater danger than this rich man in the parable.  For again, “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.”

So where is our hope, dear friends.  It’s not in a Hollywood movie, but rather in the forgiveness of sins, in the Jesus who was testified about by Moses and the Prophets.  Our hope is in the cross and in the blood and the water.  It is not in our riches and perceived self-righteousness.  Our help is in the name of the Lord!

For we are justified only by God’s great mercy.  Abraham, while he was still childless and yet clinging to the hope of an heir, “believed in the Lord, and He counted it to him as righteousness.”  Counted to him as righteousness.

Dear friends, you are not only the rich man according to your sins, but you are also Lazarus according to the Lord’s mercy.  We have the gift of faith, of baptism, of repentance, of the Word, of Moses and the Prophets, and of the opportunity to share the Lord’s mercy with others who are in need – be it material need, physical need, or spiritual need.  Our hearts can indeed be changed in this life, comforted in the world to come.  For when we realize our poverty before the Lord, when we see ourselves as helpless and sin-sore, being licked by dogs and waiting to die, when we come to grips with just how unlovable we are, it is then that we see God’s love for us, His mercy toward us, His compassion for us, and His redemption of us – though we certainly do not deserve it.

Someone has indeed risen from the dead, to call us to repent, and to count us as righteous.  Let us hear Moses and the Prophets, and most importantly of all, dear brothers and sisters, let us hear – really and truly hear – our risen Lord Jesus Christ, and let us be convinced.  For not only is hell for real, but so is heaven.  Our Lord Himself testifies to this.  And what’s even greater, the Lord is recreating the universe.  He who made heaven and earth is making all things new – yet without sin, without suffering, without death – and we will be comforted not only in heaven, but in an eternal, bodily existence in a new Eden, a Paradise Restored that is most certainly for real.

“So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us.  God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.  By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as He is, so also are we in this world,” now and even unto eternity.  Thanks be to God!  Amen.


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