Sunday, June 18, 2017

Sermon: Trinity 1 – 2017

18 June 2017

Text: Luke 16:19-31

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

There is a word that is used a lot in our culture, in the movies and TV, in internet memes, on bumper stickers and in casual conversation: the word “karma.”

Karma is about people getting what they deserve. Karma is a sense of justice, where the thief gets his stuff stolen, the bully gets bullied, and the tables are turned.

It is very easy to interpret the Lord’s story about Lazarus and the Rich Man through the eyes of karma.  In this parable, the rich man was uncaring and selfish.  He ignored the pleas of poor Lazarus, and instead enjoyed the luxuries of his own life.  And he, according to our Lord’s words, who received “good things” in his life, ends up in hell, in “anguish,” begging for a single drop of water.  But poor Lazarus, whom the Lord says, “received… bad things” in this life, now enjoys the bliss of heaven, being “comforted.” 

Everybody can see this great turn of the tables.  And who cannot relate to the idea that the rich, the one percent, the privileged, the bosses, the brass, the white collars, the CEOs, the elites, whom we assume all got their wealth by oppressing others, dishonestly, hatefully, and probably illegally as well.  Certainly not morally.  This parable is a passage that Karl Marx might have appreciated, but of course, he thought Christianity was a trick of the rich to deceive the poor.  At any rate, there is always someone richer, more blessed, with possessions that we can’t afford, enjoying a life that we might be envious of. And even someone who is consider rich can be dissatisfied with what he has in this life, for there is always someone richer.

And who cannot identify with poor Lazarus?  Who hasn’t been bullied or mistreated or ignored?  Who hasn’t fantasized about revenge on those who got over on us, who bullied us, who raised themselves up by tearing us down?

In fact, a very easy reading of this lesson of our Lord would fit on a bumper sticker about karma.

Karma turned on the rich man, and he is in hell.  Karma elevated the poor man, and he is in bliss.  Karma seems great!  At least as long as you are the oppressee and not the oppressor; as long as you are the poor guy, not the rich guy.

But there are a couple problems here, dear friends.  First, karma is not a Christian concept.  It comes from Hinduism.  It comes from a religion that teaches that there are many gods, and that human beings reincarnate after they die to move up or down the food chain based on karma.  In the religion of karma, there is no grace, no forgiveness, no cross, no Son of God, no divine mercy - “imagine there’s no heaven, it’s easy if you try, no hell below us, above us only sky” as John Lennon said in the famous song.

Secondly, in the religion of karma, there is a great impersonal cosmic scorekeeper that records every sin “in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done and by what we have left undone.”  Karma purports to compare everyone’s life to the standard of cosmic goodness, to divinity or sainthood, and then bump you up or down at the end of your life.  And with no mercy, no forgiveness, and no loving God to drag you out of the pit of hell, you simply come back to life as a dog or a toad or an earthworm, only to repeat the cycle again and again and again.

So how does karma sound now, dear friends?

Christians should never speak of karma.  It is a deception of the devil to make you self-righteous.  For in the religion of karma, everybody sees himself as Lazarus, and not the rich man.  Everybody judges himself not by the Ten Commandments but by some attainable goal of external good deeds, without looking too much under the hood.  

Now, to be sure, Scripture does warn us that we will reap what we sow.  If we persist in lying, we will eventually get caught.  If we persist in drinking and driving, we will eventually get arrested, injured, or killed.  If we treat others contemptuously, we will eventually get our comeuppance.

But this is just common sense, dear friends.  It isn’t karma. 

For we don’t worship many gods, we worship the one true God, the one who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  And the Son took flesh.  The Son died a sacrificial and substitutionary death for you, and for the life of the world.  The Son shed His blood on the cross not so that we would get what we deserve (as in the religion of karma), but rather so that we would get what we don’t deserve (which is the religion of grace, the way of the cross, the mercy of God).

So where is your karma now?  Would you rather be judged by your deeds, or by Christ’s deeds?  Would you rather appeal to your own goodness, or to the blood of Christ?

But what about our Lord’s text?  Doesn’t it say that the rich go to hell and the poor go to heaven?  Doesn’t the Lord promote a kind of karma because of the turning of the tables?

No indeed. For we have to be honest with ourselves, dear friends.  Even if you are poor by American standards, you are rich according to the lives of seven billion people on the planet.  You enjoy a standard of living that is the envy of most of the people on the globe.  And how much money do you send to poor people around the world?  How much do you give to the poor here in America?  Maybe you do, but is it enough?  Is it ever enough?  Do you give enough to satisfy karma?  Do you give enough to satisfy the Ten Commandments?  Do you selflessly love your brother and sister even to the detriment of your own life?  Are you perfect, even as your Heavenly Father is perfect?

If not, you need grace, not karma.  You need the Lord Jesus Christ, not the lord Krishna.  You need forgiven of your sins, not rewarded and repaid for those times when you have been bullied and put upon.

For in our text, we have to avoid the karmic temptation to envision ourselves only as poor Lazarus, while we imagine someone we don’t like cast in the role of the Rich Man.

Dear friends, we are the Rich Man in the story.  Even if we give to the poor, we have mixed motives.  We are selfish and we delight in our own entertainments – great and small.  We are indeed poor miserable sinners just as surely as the Rich Man was.  We are no better.  The critical difference is that the Rich Man did not heed the warning of Moses and the Prophets.  And the rich man did not have someone who did, in fact, rise from the dead.  Dear friends, we Rich Men have been warned by the One who truly did come to us from the dead, who rose again, and who has sent to us the Holy Spirit, to lead us into all truth by Word and Sacrament.  We have Jesus who comes to us from beyond the grave in the means in which He has promised, washing us with Holy Baptism, absolving us, preaching to us, and serving us His very body and blood, bearing a promise: not of karma, but of grace, the forgiveness of sins and eternal communion with God.

And there is more good news, dear friends.  We are indeed Lazarus as well.  We come to the gate of heaven laden with sores – physically and mentally wounded, festering with aches and pains and sins and injuries.  We carry heavy baggage, perhaps not unlike the chains we forged in life, as the character Marley from “A Christmas Carol.”  And yet, we are comforted by the Gospel; we are graced by the Word of God calling us to repentance and new life now, and not when it is too late. We have the promise of being “carried by the angels to Abraham’s side.”

And we don’t get what we deserve – Lord, have mercy!  We get what Christ deserves – Christ have mercy!  We are not saved by our own works of karma, but rather by the Lord’s works of grace – Lord have mercy!

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

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