Sunday, June 03, 2018

Sermon:Trinity 1 - 2018

3 June 2018

Text: Luke 16:19-31

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

The theme of our Lord’s story about Lazarus and the Rich Man can be summed up in a single word that only appears one time in the text: “mercy.” 

The Christian faith in many ways is nothing more than mercy.  God is merciful to His creation: we creatures who have betrayed Him, rejected Him, running into the arms of His enemy.  And when the Lord sent His Word to enlighten us, we rejected it.  When the Lord sent prophets to warn us, we turned on them.  When the Lord sent His only Son into the world to bear our sin and be our Savior, we crucified Him.  And our Lord Jesus is so merciful that as He was suffering on the cross, because of us and for our sakes, He prayed to the Father on our behalf: “Father, forgive them.  They know not what they do.”  He pleaded for mercy for us.

And so at the beginning of our Divine Service, we Christians have cried out for centuries: “Lord, have mercy upon us.  Christ, have mercy upon us.  Lord, have mercy upon us.”  For without mercy, we are without life, and we are without hope.

Mercy is like freedom: you cannot have it unless you are willing to give it to others.  One of the Lord’s parables involved a man who begged to be forgiven a large debt.  And when he was forgiven, he used his new freedom to demand that someone else who owed him a small debt pay it back immediately.

The Parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man is a lesson about mercy and a warning about withholding mercy. 

Lazarus was a poor man who suffered ill-health.  The rich man showed him no mercy.  But at death, the Lord showed mercy to Lazarus, who was “carried by the angels to Abraham’s side.”  However, the reversal of fortune went to this certain rich man as well, who was sent to “Hades, being in torment.” 

The rich man had a lifetime to repent, to show mercy to his neighbor, to live out the Golden Rule, and do unto Lazarus as he would have Lazarus do unto him.  In the story, the rich man now becomes the beggar: “Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame.”

His lack of mercy was revisited upon him: “Child,” says the voice of the patriarch Abraham in this story: “Child, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner bad things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish.”

The rich man’s lack of mercy is now the very judgment that the rich man faces now that his life is over.  Even as the rich man withheld mercy from Lazarus, so does God withhold mercy from the rich man.

For even as there is mercy, there is still justice.  But the good news, dear brothers and sisters, is that even with justice, there is mercy.  God will forgive each one of us who asks for mercy.  And in asking for mercy, we demonstrate repentance by showing mercy.  “Forgive us our trespasses,” the Lord teaches us to pray, “as we forgive those who trespass against us.”  “For we sin much,” as we say in our Catechism, “and surely deserve nothing but punishment.  So we too will sincerely forgive and gladly do good to those who sin against us.”  This is mercy.

But there is another warning that our Lord is mercifully teaching us right here and right now, dear friends.  The warning is this: the time to repent is now.  It is not tomorrow, not next year, not when you are older.  The time to repent is now, for that is where we live.  We live in the present.  The past is done.  The future may not come at all.  We can die at any moment, without warning.  There is nothing in our Lord’s story that implies that Lazarus and the rich man knew when they would die.  The rich man had daily opportunities to repent, to show mercy, to ask for forgiveness, and to be a good steward of the wealth with which the Lord had blessed him.

Each day that went by was another day lost, another opportunity squandered, another step closer to torment, to justice, to the loss of the opportunity to receive mercy.

In that sense, this is a terrifying parable.  The rich man speaks of “anguish in this flame.”  There is permanence in this condemnation: “Between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.”

But there is still good news, dear friends.  You can still pass from death to life, from sin to forgiveness, from living for yourself and squandering the Lord’s riches to living a life of mercy and investing the Lord’s riches by living in the kingdom, even as we repent each and every day.  You can still show mercy to others, in whatever way that might manifest itself in your life.  You may be rich or poor, but the Lord will provide for you very real ways to show mercy to your neighbor. 

And what’s more, God is merciful.  For even as the rich man begged for a warning, and it was too late for him – it is not too late for us!  For indeed “we have Moses and the Prophets,” let us hear them!  We have our Lord Jesus Christ and the Word that we are given anew right now, let us hear Him!  We have the full counsel of God summed up in the Catechism: let us hear that Word of God!

Let us hear, let us repent, let us receive mercy, and let us live!  For unlike the situation of the rich man whose life was squandered only upon himself, we do indeed have someone who has risen from the dead who is warning us, and what’s more, who is showing us mercy and saving us: our Lord Jesus Christ Himself, the one who truly said, “I am,” before Abraham was.  Our Lord is the very Word of God made flesh, whose flesh was crucified for us, who rose from the dead, not to convince us of Moses and the Prophets, but to fulfill them and show us mercy!

We are the recipients of divine mercy, dear friends, from our baptisms to the opportunities we have to hear the Word of God preached and the Gospel proclaimed, from Holy Absolution to the most holy body and blood of our Lord, given and shed for the forgiveness of sins, offered to us in mercy, and received by us in repentant joy!

The Christian faith is all about mercy.  It is given to us without strings attached, and we are given the opportunity to show it to others out of gratitude for the mercy shown to us.

Lord, have mercy upon us.  Christ, have mercy upon us.  Lord, have mercy upon us.  Amen.

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

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