7 June 2015
Text: Luke 16:19-31 (1 John 4:16-21)
In the name of + Jesus. Amen.
“God is love,” says the apostle John, “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.”
So, God is love, and yet there is a day of judgment. God is love, and yet there are Ten Commandments for us to obey. God is love, and yet our Lord Jesus Christ tells us about hell and anguish and torment.
Why would a loving God send anyone to hell? Why would God be judgmental? If God is love, why would he call people “sinners” for just being who they are?
These are actually very good questions that people ask, and it cuts to the heart of who God is, who we are, and what our purpose is as God’s creatures.
And without understanding the sin that infects all of us, none of this makes sense. We have all chosen to go our own way, to rebel against God by breaking His commandments. This is why things are the way they are. We live in a world of crime and violence, of sickness and sorrow and sadness, of money problems, family problems, health problems, conflicts between people and between nations. Who, dear friends, is not disappointed with parents, with children, with bosses, and with workers – and if we’re honest: with ourselves.
God did not do this, dear friends, we did. And if God is just, as He must surely be to be God, there has to be justice. We all intuitively understand this. We don’t applaud the bully; we don’t emulate the coward and the traitor; we don’t hope that a deranged person succeeds in an act of terrorism; we don’t smile when children are abused, animals are tortured, or the elderly are taken advantage of.
So we have this dilemma. We want justice. But we want it for others, and not ourselves. We want to see sinners get what’s coming to them, but we want an exception for ourselves. It is when we look at ourselves that we most seek a forgiving God, a merciful God, a God who is love.
How can God be both just and merciful?
Our Lord’s story of Lazarus and the Rich Man teaches us that God’s kingdom is not like the world. For here we see both justice and mercy, heaven and hell, a reversal of the ways of the world, and finally, a promise of the Lord’s resurrection from the dead, the ultimate act of love.
The rich man “was clothed in purple and fine linen and… feasted sumptuously every day.” Lazarus was a “poor man… covered with sores.” Let me ask you, dear friends, whom would you rather see visiting our church: a rich, well-dressed man who knows how to put on fancy dinners, or a beggar with festering sores? Whom would you rather see your daughter marry, a well-dressed wealthy man or a disfigured homeless person? Which type of person would you rather be seen with in public?
We know how the world works, what the world admires, and whom the world wishes to emulate. And as much as we might like to think otherwise, we are guilty of being “of the world” even as Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world.”
But what about the kingdom of God, dear freinds? We learn about God’s kingdom from the rich man and Lazarus. We learn that the rich man was indifferent to suffering. He lacked compassion. He lacked love. Clearly, he lacked repentance, for by virtue of his sins and lack of forgiveness, he finds himself in hell, in torment. By contrast, the rich man’s fellow sinner Lazarus finds himself “carried by the angels to Abraham’s side.” He is not being rewarded for being poor. He was not being rewarded for being a victim. Rather, Lazarus receives God’s grace and mercy and forgiveness and life.
For the kingdom of God does not work like the world, which favors the wealthy, the well-dressed, and the well-connected. Indeed, God, being love, offers something better than being wealthy in the worldly sense (offering instead treasures in heaven); He offers something better than being well-dressed by clothes that will eventually wear out (offering instead a garment of righteousness that will never fade); He offers something better than being well-connected to powerful people in this life (offering instead communion with God Almighty). God gives all of these to Lazarus as a free gift, even though he suffered in this world, was shunned and scorned because he lacked these qualities that we poor miserable sinners love and admire.
We love the rich and powerful because, dear friends, as sinners, according to our fallen flesh, we do not know what true love is. But God is merciful, dear brothers and sisters. Jesus has come into the world not merely to teach us about love, but to demonstrate it to us, and most importantly of all, to love us as only he is capable of doing: dying for us to save us from our own sins, transferring them to Himself and taking them to the cross, though He is truly the only innocent Person who ever lived. This is love, dear friends. He offers Himself for us, dies so that we might live, suffers the punishment of suffering so that we might be comforted.
“So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us.”
So what about justice? It is fulfilled in Jesus, who takes the wrath of God for us. And this, dear friends, is the greatest love of all: the innocent dying for the guilty. For the Lord Jesus Christ died for both Lazarus and the rich man. The love of God is neither excluded from a poor man with sores, nor from the wealthy who wear fine clothing and feast like kings.
The bad news is that the rich man died in his sins. He refused the free gift of salvation. Like his brothers that remain on earth, the rich man was impoverished in one area: repentance. He lacked this, and suffering the consequences of his impenitence, sought to find a way to warn his brothers to repent.
Our Lord says: “If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.”
That “someone” dear friends, is Christ. He loves you, sores and all. He redeems you, not because you are wealthy, but because He is merciful. He gives you everlasting life, not because you have earned it, but rather because He has earned it, and gives it to you out of divine love.
And the most loving thing the Lord is doing in this gospel is warning us, dear friends. For He did rise from the dead, and He bids us to heed His warning. Repent! And believe! Acknowledge your sinfulness, and then receive the gift of grace. Turn away from the world’s evil so that you might receive the Lord’s kingdom of righteousness!
Listen to Moses and the Prophets, for they testify of Him who is love. Receive the Holy Supper, for it is given to you for the forgiveness of sins. Remember your baptism, for in that sacred washing, you have been covered by the blood of Christ out of sheer love.
“God is love,” says the apostle John, “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.” Amen.
In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.